Why the Ainu offer sake to the Divine Fish, the Chief of the Salmon

The Worship of the Salmon, the Divine Fish.

   A certain Aino went out in a boat to catch fish in the sea. While he was there, a great wind arose, so that he drifted about for six nights. Just as he was like to die, land came in sight. Being borne on to the beach by the waves, he quietly stepped ashore, where he found a pleasant rivulet. Having walked up the bank of this rivulet for some distance, he saw a populous place. Near the place were crowds of people, both men and women. Going on to it, and entering the house of the chief, he found an old man of very divine aspect. That old man said to him: “Stay with us a night, and we will send you home to your country to-morrow. Do you consent?” So the Aino spent the night with the old chief. When next day came, the old chief spoke thus: “Some of my people, both men and women, are going to your country for purposes of trade. So, if you will be led by them, you will be able to go home. When they take you with them in the boat, you must lie down, and not look about you, but completely hide your head. If you do that, you may return. p. 40 If you look, my people will be angry. Mind you do not look.” Thus spoke the old chief. Well, there was a whole fleet of boats, inside of which crowds of people, both men and women, took passage. There were as many as five score boats, which all started off together. The Aino lay down inside one of them and hid his head, while the others made the boats go to the music of a pretty song. He liked this much. After awhile, they reached the land. When they had done so, the Aino, peeping a little, saw that there was a river, and that they were drawing water with dippers from the mouth of the river, and sipping it. They said to each other: “How good this water is!” Half the fleet went up the river. But the boat in which the Aino was went on its voyage, and at last reached his native place, whereupon the sailors threw the Aino into the water. He thought he had been dreaming. Afterwards he came to himself. The boat and its sailors had disappeared—whither he could not tell. But he went to his house, and, falling asleep, dreamt a dream. He dreamt that the same old chief appeared to him and said: “I am no human being. I am the chief of the salmon, the divine fish. As you seemed in danger of dying in the waves, I drew you to me and saved your life. You thought you only stayed with me one night. But in truth that night was a whole year. When it was ended, I sent you back to your native place. So I shall be truly grateful if henceforth you will offer rice-beer to me, set up the divine symbols in my honour, and worship me with the words ‘I make a libation to the chief of the salmon, the divine fish.’ If you do not worship me, you will become a poor man. Remember this well!” Such were the words which the divine old man spoke to him in his dream.—(Translated literally. Told by Ishanashte, 17th July, 1886.) Source: Basil Hall Chamberlain’s “Aino Folk-Tales


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